Bombs, Baghdad and Hollywood

The worst attacks in Baghdad for months put my visit to the movies last night into a sobering context: I went to see The Hurt Locker, which is about a US bomb disposal unit working in Iraq. The film was almost universally praised. I thought it was gripping, disturbing, and brilliantly executed.

A couple of scenes did strike me as implausible. (The shoot-out in the desert, which had the bomb-disposal guys fighting alongside a group of Brits who seemed to have a lot of trouble aiming their sniper rifle; the crazy freelance venture towards the end, which  got one of the team shot.) But the visuals were completely convincing, the casting (with lesser known actors in the leading roles) was perfect, and the tension was relentlessly maintained.

So I agreed, for instance, with David Denby, Dana Stevens, and Joe Morgenstern, who all gave it raves. I did wonder how David Denby could write of the main character that "you might say he's drawn to danger and needs it." You might say that? How could it be plainer that he's fatally addicted to danger, thus doomed physically, and already emotionally dead. In an unbearably sad moment at the end he tells his infant son that with age you come to love fewer things; he now loves only one, he says. Cut to an image of him walking down the street towards an unexploded bomb. I think the movie's epigraph, a quotation from a war correspondent that says "war is a drug" may also be intended as a clue.

I was pleased that director Kathryn Bigelow has such a critical hit on her hands, because I have always had a slightly guilty admiration for "Point Break", a surfer-dude crime caper with the reliably preposterous Keanu Reeves playing an FBI undercover officer. If I described the plot then told you how much I enjoy this movie, you would lose what little respect for me you already have. So I won't do that.

Do go and see The Hurt Locker. It's superb cinema. But you might also take a moment to browse the comments thread attached to Metacritic's review page. Ordinary movie-goers mostly loved it. But the film has a lot of very low ratings from people who say they have served in Iraq, and who complain bitterly that, despite all its apparent realism, the film is not at all truthful. For instance:

I am still deployed and this is truly the worst war movie I have ever watched. Without even acknowledging how far from the truth the tactics are and lack of security in every scene, EOD [bomb disposal] is falsely portrayed as some sort of special forces unit. I have sat on many IED's and regardless of the fact that units are not allowed to travel outside of a 3 vehicle or 4 vehicle security concept, EOD is not comprised of 3 enlisted men defusing bombs. The robot is always extensively used and more importantly EOD personnel are never foolish enough to handle ready to go large ordnance to defuse it. Every time we found an IED from 155 shells to mortar rounds, they were always blown in place. The few times an IED was taken was when it was fully dismembered by a disrupting detonation. I watched a little over half of this movie before turning it off as it was too painful and ridiculous to watch.

Another said:

It was a movie by civilians for civilians, which I guess is why so many critics love it so much.

Hmm. That rings true, doesn't it?